Innovative organizational culture is something that many companies are striving for. On organizational level it requires willingness to try new things with open and supportive communication climate and trust in the leadership. Instead of controlling mistakes and being afraid of doing them, mistakes are seen as a middle step on the way to success and leaders’ task is to coach people to go beyond the unsuccessful behaviour. Employees are willing to try and test their limits with support from their managers. Instead of trying to hide errors, people are discussing together what went wrong and what we have learned from it.

The way we see failures, is affecting very much to the innovations and how innovative an organizational culture is. Innovation requires boldness; if people are afraid of making mistakes, there is no will to be truly innovative and try new things, create new solution and ideas. First we must to accept the possibility of being unsuccessful – and it is even necessary from the learning perspective. Trial comes before the success.

Ultimately we don’t want to make mistakes, failures and feel the emotions related to not succeeding. But what if there is no such thing as failures? If you think of failures as just feedback for your actions – behaviour, decisions and communication – the picture looks quite different. Failure provides you with extremely valuable feedback of which of your actions are working and taking you closer to your targets, and which of them are not working. And it gives you a possibility to change your behaviour to be successful; change your actions accordingly to get different results. Doesn’t sound so bad at all. Yet it is difficult to let go of the mistakes and keep eye on the targets and corrective new actions.

Support & show the way

Innovation means repetition of trial and error several times, learning from the errors and sharing the knowledge within the organization. If the outspoken values and actions are contradicting with the reality of the organizational culture, the culture takes over. If values are promoting innovation, but in reality the mistakes will be punished nobody dares to innovate as it means the possibility for a punishment. All organizational actions, policies and communication climate must promote the creative learning atmosphere. And it is a huge effort to change if the culture is not yet on the line with values. Firstly, it requires the managers to show the way.

From leadership perspective, it requires brave, open-minded leadership from managers, admitting that managers and leaders do not always have the answers – instead they can make mistakes as well. Learning and support are the key words. In order for employees to be creative and try new ways of doing things, the leaders and managers must show the way; show example and support employees with their trials. If managers are willing to try and fail, it gives a solid message to the whole organization.

The ideal employee in many job advertisements is proactive and eager to take responsibility. But in order for that happen, the organizational culture must be tolerant for failures – accept the risk related to being proactive and taking action. It means a chance of failure and learning.

Mervi Lamberg
Consultant & Business Coach
noname Consulting, Finland